Liz Mills: a Trailblazer in the World of Basketball

Liz Mills, the first woman to coach a men’s national team, brings down walls in sports, proving gender is not a barrier.

Coaches generally enter the court and begin focusing on the game as soon as they do. Examples include the strategy, lineups, and matchups that male coaches consider. For Mills, though, every decision—including the choice of her attire—must be carefully considered.

“When I went to Mozambique, they said: ‘You can’t wear the boots. You’ve got to take them off because you look too feminine,'” Mills recounted.

Nevertheless, she dismissed the committee’s requirement, stating that she entered the court regardless of the interaction.

“I’m very proud to be a woman. But don’t you forget about it, but I’m here to coach. And that’s what I want people to talk about: the coaching.”

Mills and her stint in coaching

Mills came from Australia and grew up following the Women’s National Basketball League. But unlike many others, Mills found inspiration from the instructors on the sidelines.

“I always say that seeing coaches like Carrie Graf and Jan Sterling, these were head coaches of women’s teams in the 90s and early 2000s. So, I think that put the idea in my head that I’m not going to be a great player, but I could be a great coach. I saw these strong, successful, intelligent women winning the league. If they can do it, I can do it,” she said.

The accomplishment she has made today is beyond anything she could have imagined. Women’s basketball was something Mills aspired to compete in. However, she has become a trailblazer in men’s basketball, so it appears fate has bigger plans for her. Mills became the first female to lead a men’s national team. She asserts that sports suit any gender, despite men dominating the scene.

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Fate favored the female coach

She began teaching both boys and girls basketball in Australia. But a colleague offered her to see a men’s basketball team when she flew to volunteer in Zambia. Passionate about the game, Mills attempted to converse with the team’s manager in an endeavor that would eventually boost her coaching career.

“I go up to one of the players and ask, ‘Do you have a club president or anything here?’ And he introduced me to the club president. He worked for the World Bank, Maziko Phiri, and was very open-minded, so we had a chat, and he said, ‘OK, you can have an hour of practice,'” she recalled.

In due course, Mills got appointed Heroes Play United’s head coach. She took charge of various teams for over ten years, including clubs in Zambia and Rwanda. After landing a coaching position with the Kenyan men’s national team, her career began to move onto a bigger base.

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The magic with Kenya

Throughout the AfroBasket 2021 qualifications, Mills mentored the Kenyan National Team. In a nail-biting match against Angola, the team’s forward, Tylor Ongwae, hit a buzzer-beater to win the game and advance the squad further in the tournament. However, in the round of 16, South Sudan defeated them. Nevertheless, despite the defeat, Mill’s coaching helped the Kenyan squad accomplish a goal they had diligently sought to realize during its entire history.

Mills looked at North African clubs after Kenya before securing a role with the AS Sale. She makes history as the first woman to lead a team in the Basketball Africa League, leaving her mark on the sport (BAL).